The Video Game Phenomenon

All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master.  –Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc.

You may have noticed, kids play video games and they don’t quit when they reach adulthood.
Today, gaming is the largest entertainment industry for children.
According to this 2008 survey, 97% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 play video games.
Gender distribution of gamers is roughly 60% male and 40% female, with the average age around 30 and getting older.

Mine was the first generation that grew up with video games.
For better or worse they are a permanent fixture in popular culture, thus they should be understood in their correct historical & material context.

This piece is written from a retro-gamer perspective.

Centipede: Atari 5200

Japan spearheaded the PC and video game revolution that eventually became popular culture, ever since it took the lead in the global electronics industry in the 1960’s.

Early video game templates were SpaceWar! (1962 MIT) & Computer Space (1971 Nolan Bushnell & Ted Dabney).

Atari is a Japanese verb meaning “to hit the mark.”
Atari, Inc, was established by Bushnell & Dabney in California in 1972.
Atari was a pioneer in arcade games (1972 Pong) and home video game consoles (1977 Atari VCS); defining & dominating the industry until the North American video game crash of 1983.

US video game manufacturing was led by Atari, after founder Nolan Bushnell sold it to Warner Communications in 1976 for $28 million.
Bushnell designed the Atari VCS (Video Computer System– later re-named the Atari 2600), and it started retailing at Sears in fall of 1977 for $199.
By 1979, it was the best-selling Christmas gift in the US.

The Atari 2600 was the first true home gaming console of the arcade era.
By today’s standards this machine is archaic.
Memory for computers was very expensive at the time, and the Atari 2600 ran on a mere 128 bytes RAM, 4 KB ROM, with a CPU @ 1.19 MHz.
Graphics were blocky and game-play was limited to 2-D, but the games themselves although much inferior to their arcade versions, were still intense & addicting to many.

The success of the Atari 2600 forever established the home video game market.

The success of Space Invaders (1978 Taito) & Asteroids (1979 Atari) sparked the golden age of arcade video games.
Prior to this era, pinball machines were dominant.
The limitation of pinball was that it tested a very limited skill-set, as every game depended solely on flipper control.

Video games established in the Golden Era of Arcade Games broke through this, with a variety of different types of games; from Shooters to Maze, Puzzle & Platform styles.
Pac-Man (1980 Namco) & Centipede (1981 Atari) crossed-over to females, making video games a permanent phenomenon.

Nintendo entered the market with Donkey Kong (1981), a deceptively simple design that is still one of the most difficult (and simultaneously amazing) games ever created.

Defender (1981 Williams Electronics) was a scrolling Shooter with multiple controls, needing to be used with split-second precision.
Only the best gamers could dominate this mind-blowing masterpiece.

Professional computer programmers soon became professional game designers, employed by emerging Japanese multinational giants including:

Taito (1978 Space Invaders, 1981 Qix)
Namco (1979 Galaxian, 1980 Pac-Man, 1981 Galaga, 1982 Dig Dug, Pole Position)
Nintendo (1981 Donkey Kong, 1983 Mario Bros., 1984 Punch-Out!!)
Konami (1981 Frogger, 1983 Track & Field)
Sega (1982 Pengo, Star Trek, Zaxxon)

In this period, designers were cut out of the royalties for the hit games they created.
Before disenfranchised Atari programmers created Activision in 1979, third-party game developers did not exist.
Atari (owned by Warner Communications) ruled the market, and was the only publisher of games for the Atari 2600.

Activision created a new model, by rewarding, crediting and promoting game developers; along with the games themselves.
Activision included a page to the developer in their instruction manuals, and encouraged players to send in screen-shots of high scores, etc.
This grassroots, fan-based approach helped the newly-formed company attract experienced talent.
In 1982, Activision released Pitfall!, a best-selling game for the Atari 2600.
Today, Activision is one of the largest third-party video game publishers in the world.

Warner responded by releasing the Atari 5200, for the 1982 Christmas season.
The Atari 5200 is both the best and the most-maligned home console from the arcade era (defined as pre-NES).
Released with great fanfare, just before the industry collapsed, the Atari 5200 was rushed to market by Warner with serious design flaws; namely it’s controllers were poor quality & unreliable, plus the system wasn’t compatible with old 2600 cartridges until an expensive adaptor (which didn’t fit all 5200 models) was later made available for purchase.
In spite of these limitations (which were never addressed due to market crash) the Atari 5200 was still the most advanced non-PC gaming console of its time.
All the best titles of the arcade era from Berzerk to Zaxxon (except Donkey Kong which was licensed by Nintendo to ColecoVision) were available on the 5200.
The 5200’s signature game was its port of Star Raiders (1979 Atari; designer-Doug Neubauer), but nearly every title was clearly superior to the 2600 in graphics & game-play.

Industry revenues in 1982 had peaked at $3.2 billion, then fell in 1983 over 95% to around $100 million; wiping out Atari and dozens of other US video-game manufacturers.
The cause was: over-saturation of the market with hundreds of lousy games (on over a dozen different platforms), which resulted in high prices & loss of consumer confidence.
The fastest-growing company in the history of American business, Atari Inc would go on to lose $536 million in 1983, and was sold off by Warner Communications the following year.

The North American video game crash of 1983, was an abrupt mass-extinction in the industry that lasted until the Nintendo Entertainment System arrived in 1985.
It wasn’t until Microsoft’s Xbox in the 2000’s, that a U.S. manufacturer became competitive in the home gaming console market again.

The widespread success of the NES, was made possible by Nintendo introducing a now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers.
This authorized (recognized & paid) game designers to produce and distribute titles for Nintendo’s platform.
Compensating game designers more fairly led to higher-quality titles, and helped restore consumer confidence.

Nintendo would revolutionize the industry again in 1989, introducing the Gameboy, the first high-quality portable gaming console.
The Gameboy bundled-in Tetris, a simple yet addicting puzzle game, which became a cultural phenomenon.

By the early 1990’s the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (1991 killer app–Sonic the Hedgehog) & Super Nintendo upped their consoles to 16-bit microprocessors, which allowed graphics and game-play to approach and even exceed arcade machines.
This was the death knell for mall arcades, as new best-selling titles were now released directly for home consoles or PC.

Video games of this era became more graphic in their representations of sex, death & violence. In 1993 Sega started rating its video games for content, in a similar way to which films were rated.

Best-selling games of this era included:
Grand Theft Auto (1997 DMA Design), notable for its violent content.
Final Fantasy (1987 Nintendo) & Diablo (1996 Blizzard Entertainment) were massively popular role-playing games.
Doom (1993) & Quake (1996, both from id Software) were 1st-person shooters for home computers, which upped the ante on anti-social violence, while pioneering play over the Internet.
One of the best-designed games for PC & Mac in this era was SimCity (1989 Maxis), a city-building simulation video game.

Sony entered the 32-bit console market with its PlayStation in 1994.
The PS2, released in 2000, became the best selling console in history, with over 155 million units sold in its 13-year manufacturing run.

Microsoft’s Xbox (2001) entered the market with it’s killer app, Halo: Combat Evolved; an ultra-violent first-person shooter that fit in perfectly with the cultural militarism of the period.
The Xbox was reportedly sold to consumers at a loss to achieve market penetration, in order to realize its overall objective of being a leader in online gaming which was still in its infancy at the time.

The Nintendo Wii (2006, pack-in game: Wii Sports) capitalized on the intuitive nature of motion control, and once again Nintendo revolutionized video gaming.

By the early 2000’s, mobile phone gaming had been hugely popular in Japan for years.
The popular US conversion to Smart phones and the iPhone (2007 Apple) brought the mobile gaming phenomenon to North America.


It is always imperative to understand that video games are a form of television, which is boredom-killing entertainment.
Video games are isolationist & voyeuristic by their very nature, making them unproductive while highly addictive.
Video games, along with all other forms of mass media, reflect society’s values which is why they are now largely misanthropic.

Controlling these media means real power & influence, for those who own it.

Imagine this scenario:
Ten people in a room competing for attention– the least assertive person gets pushed into the background.
Next, the marginalized person obtains a remote control to DirecTV or a game console– and suddenly this non-entity transforms into the most powerful person in the room.
His/her choices in volume & programming become impossible for anyone to ignore.
This effect is the same on a global scale, which is the reason why it needs to taken out of the hands of private corporations, and brought under the ownership & democratic control of working people, meaning everybody.

Today, all mass media is far too violent, sexist, misanthropic, etc. to have much educational value for children or anyone else.
Homo sapiens must do better if we are to prepare our children to solve the many problems we have created for ourselves and our planet.

In short, the history of the video game industry is the story of globalization, advances in technology, and idea sharing.
Innovation runs into the barrier of private ownership, which slows down development in the name of profits & reactionary ideology.
This leads to vapid content using sophisticated technology, which dovetails into apathy & militarism.

Steam Locomotion & Modern Economics

Steam Locomotive

Mount Dora has tried this before.

MD RR Steam Locomotive & Wood Car

Here is what I found to be the most helpful review of the Mount Dora Railroad (MDRR) on Yelp, published by Steven I. on 2/27/2010:

“I suppose a child who has never seen a train before might be curious, but on a scale of 1-10, these trains are 1’s.  They have bought old commuter train cars from around the country and somehow got them down here.  When they arrived, they are rusted hulks in need of windows, paint, chairs etc.  Many came from electrified tracks.  Well guess what, these tracks are not electrified.  So they have to retrofit them with car engines to make them run.  Track foundations are not frequently inspected by the government with sections washing away by rain and erosion.  No routine  maintenance is performed on tracks since it is cost prohibited.  This tourist train has been leased out to several companies over the past ten years.  None of them had any great success.  Most of the track runs along side the road.  Great scenery eh?”

Baldwin Locomotive Works originally located in Philadelphia, PA; stopped producing locomotives in 1956.  Bankrupted in 1972.

Baldwin Locomotive Works originally located in Philadelphia, PA; stopped producing locomotives in 1956. Bankrupted in 1972.

History: steam locomotives are a relic of our nation’s past and part of our history.  They deserve to be appreciated in their proper historical context.  The steam engine is a symbol of rising American capitalism.  It’s revival as a tourist industry in Mount Dora, FL under modern capitalism, is the nostalgic vision of decision-makers who think (& live) in the past.

The introduction of electric locomotives at the turn of the 20th century, and later diesel-electric locomotives, ended the era of 19th-century wood/coal steam locomotives.
Steam engines are considerably less efficient than modern diesels, requiring constant maintenance and labour to keep them safely operational.

According to the engineer and his assistants, the MDRR burns a cord of good wood per day, in its three trips to nearby Tavares & back.

For longer distances, water is required at many points throughout a rail network and becomes a major problem in drought & desert areas.
The reciprocating mechanism on the driving wheels of a two-cylinder single expansion steam locomotive tends to pound the rails, thus requiring more maintenance.
Smoke from steam locomotives is deemed objectionable, although diesels can not be considered “clean” by any modern rational standard.

————All Aboard!!—————

      1. tipofthecap-12-12-14a-224.mp3

Tip of the Cap— Ric Size, Tom Pearce, Craig Roy, Bill Pelick

As far as the railroad being a modern tourist attraction goes, consider this: How many Floridians do you think are interested in riding at a leisurely pace, without air conditioning in 90+ degree heat?  Most Americans consider that a Third World experience, meaning they’re likely not up for much of it.

Last Day of Winter

The city of Mount Dora tries to market itself as quaint, but that shouldn’t mean short-sighted and wasteful.
Over $1,000,000 was spent repairing the tracks which run from Mount Dora to Tavares.
Based on past history, and ongoing maintenance needs; what is this costing?  How much of a deficit is it running?  These are typical fair citizen/taxpayer questions that are never answered with honesty or accountability, anywhere.

The MDRR runs only on weekends (Fri-Sun), during the snowbird season (roughly Nov-April).

Snowbird (n.)– self-acclaimed, old folk know-it-alls with money, who vacation in Florida during the winter months; then leave when the going gets tough from heat & hurricanes, in order to migrate ‘home’ and gossip to their colleagues about how superior they are.

Too costly to run daily

Sits idle most days

Diesel Locomotive Coupled

Diesel MDRR workhorse here, as the steam engine is usually only fired up for big chamber of commerce events


There has been an inherent lack of openness & coordinated planning in this whole railroad-as-tourist-attraction scheme.
The resources wasted on this effort would have been much better used for constructing sidewalks, as well as a much-needed FREE public-parking garage; so people can get around Mount Dora more easily & safely.
The owners of Mount Dora have proudly marketed their quaintness; and if that’s their way of saying: it’s the same corruption here as everywhere else since the dawn of capitalism, then Mount Dora is a picture of American quaintness.



Football or Baseball Nation?

The United States of America was once a baseball nation.
Today it is a football nation.
It is in our national interest to become baseball again.
Here is why?

Football tries to win every game, often regardless of cost.
Baseball knows this is not only an impossibility but also foolish, and therefore accepts losing as a cost of the game.
The baseball metaphor more resembles a healthy & manageable life.

In baseball the best team usually wins around 100 games, which means they’ve also lost around 62.
Even in the best years of living, successful people have losing days when they must deal with falling short of expectations.
These (generally) successful people go home to their families, and don’t forget their true wealth is in their happiness, with those they love.
It is similar in baseball where the emphasis is on: staying positive in the face of daily adversity, consistently putting forth good effort, and learning to accept losing– because some days you just can’t win.
This approach avoids extended losing streaks, and its realization is the difference between winning and losing, over a long season.
Life, like baseball, is a marathon.

Good Wood

In football, the best teams are urged to try for 16-0, plus the Super Bowl.
Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins (17-0) ever achieved a perfect season, making them a statistical outlier.
Few experts even list them as the greatest single-season team ever, as compared to the Steel Curtain Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bill Walsh-era SF 49ers, or the 1985 Chicago Bears.

The fact that no team has matched Miami’s 1972 perfection doesn’t keep teams from trying.   Every year, the media hypes fans into expecting another statistical miracle.
The problem is: Undefeated is an unrealistic expectation in sports and a dangerous expectation for reality.  This becomes a societal problem when it becomes predominant ruling-class thought, imitated by the most backward layers of the working class.
It is unhealthy to not accept losing.
Only insecure losers believe they can completely prevent losing.

Bill Belichick is a certainly a great football coach, but does that make him happy?
I wonder this, because I never see him laugh or smile.
He’s often put forward as a role model to others.

The NFL & College Football seasons unfold in a weekly series of violent spasms, with six days of recuperation before the next battle.
The NFL season is a meat-grinder by any fair description.
The average NFL career length is 3.3 years, as compared to 5.6 in MLB.

The mentality of too many football fans is often one of intolerance towards others (all opponents), with an uncompromising win-at-all-costs approach.
There are too many murders & rapists in the NFL, simply because they help win Super Bowls.
There is too much PED abuse at all levels of football, which only follows the pioneering example of the NFL.
There is no serious comprehensive concussion prevention (or treatment) program at any level of the sport.
Any attempts to question the NFL on these topics, leads to defensive double-speak & fierce lobbying resistance.

Of course, these problems also exist in baseball, but they are much less fundamental & pervasive than they are in American football.
To the extent they have penetrated baseball can be seen as a general follow-the-leader shift (with football leading) in popular sports thinking.  Generally, the term ‘sports thinking’ is an oxymoron.
MLB accepted football’s methods such as steroids in the 1990’s & beyond, because it improved player performance (at least in the short-term) and also because many owners agreed that by making the game more like football, it would be more popular.
It worked in 1998 with Sammy Sosa & Mark McGwire chasing (and obliterating) Roger Maris’ season HR record.
In 2001, when Barry Bonds obliterated it again, baseball fans were no longer excited.
The ugly truth, which had finally become apparent to most, could not be ignored. It seemed impossible for most to cheer.

Unfortunately. much of this ugliness goes directly to the heart of what football is.
It is often too violent, too destructive, and too degraded a spectacle– to be watched by anyone who thinks with compassion for others.
When players are lying on the field–concussed, TV audiences are promptly cut to a commercial.
Announcers often only comment on this phenomenon in passing, as their jobs are threatened by the NFL (through its Network broadcast partners), if they raise serious medical player-safety issues on the air.
Football announcers are too often ex-jocks, simply cheerleading for their game.
Their cliched claim to be bringing fans the “inside experience” rings hollow, as their function (besides their celebrity) is to keep fans away from the game’s dirty secrets.
It is the Player’s code: For the good of the game, it is best to deceive the fans about how players really make themselves ready to perform on Gameday.
It’s all about winning the ratings.

The best aspect of the NFL’s concussion crisis is that sports fans are now more aware of the true cost of playing football.
Too many NFL players retire into a life of chronic pain, depression, Alzheimer/dementia, and even suicide.
It is too terrible a trend to ignore, especially when it happens to some of its greatest stars.
Playing professional football is one of the most dangerous & unhealthy careers a man can choose, yet most fans think it is an honor to play in the NFL.
There is a huge disconnect from the wanna-be’s who obsessively follow the game, and the actual players who view the NFL as a short-term, high-risk/high-reward job.
Most NFL players don’t talk about the privilege of playing anymore, as that old-school mentality went out with billion dollar TV contracts, $10-millon signing bonuses, and the medical science on post-NFL life.

Baseball has become more difficult for its core fans to watch, because it has been turned into football, in many ways.
PEDs, Wild Cards, expanded play-offs, garrulous announcers, exploding graphics, replay umpiring, etc… all take their toll on the roots of our national pastime.
Baseball is a game that is deceptively simple in its elegance, and lends itself to contemplation during its periods of inaction.
Its natural rhythm & pace, allows time for actual thought.
Football attempts to fill every second of its broadcasts with hype & pizazz.
There are only 11.5 minutes of actual game action in a typical NFL contest.

When baseball tries to imitate football, in an attempt to close the ratings gap, it loses its identity.
When, We the People, let ourselves be herded into group-think by violent & uncritical mindsets that serves ruling interests, we lose our identity.
These are fascist tendencies, which must be recognized & resisted.


May Day: International Labor Day

Today is May Day, the great unknown American holiday.  It is unfortunate that here in the United States, we don’t know our history.

Outside the US, May Day is recognized in over 80 countries around the world as a day of international labor solidarity.

The first May Day of this kind was in Chicago in 1886, when organized workers energetically demonstrated on May 1st for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, along with other proletariat class demands.

Three days later, the demonstration was broken up by police force, in what is known as the Haymarket Affair. There is still a statue in Chicago commemorating this historical event.



The US history of worker militancy needs to be re-learned by its population, and drawn upon.  The war against capitalist exploitation needs history (with the invaluable lessons it contains), to guide the working masses fighting spirit.

Workers of the world, unite!!